“Have you ever considered trying out for the cross-country team?” my physical education teacher asked me one day after gym class. As a junior-high student who wanted to be good at something but had tried and failed at every other sport, I gave his advice a shot. He saw potential in me, so I gave myself to become the best runner. By my sophomore year of high school, I became strong and successful as a cross-country and track-runner. I enjoyed the attention that I received, so I continued to work toward being the fittest, the strongest, and the leanest. I exercised more and more and ate less and less. What I considered being healthy was actually triggering an eating disorder.
The week before track practice started in my junior year, I was diagnosed with an exercise-induced anorexia and told that I could not run until I recovered.Taking track away from me was like pulling the rug from underneath my feet. Track was not just something that I did, it was who I was – my very identity and obsession.At first I denied that I had an eating disorder. I will just eat more, gain weight, and jump back into the middle of track season, I thought. But the more I tried to take control and fix my problem on my own, the more I realized how powerless I was. I really did have an eating disorder, it was out of my control, and it terrified me.Earlier that year, I wrote a prayer in my journal that read, Lord, teach me what it means to surrender. Little did I know how God would answer that prayer, and He used my eating disorder to accomplish His purposes for me.Although I grew up in a Christian home and learned about God all my life, Jesus did not become my everything until I battled an eating disorder. Before, Jesus was just a part of my life along with running and track and my social group of friends. When track was taken away, I began to learn that my identity, beauty, and worth does not come from who I am or anything I do. My worth, identity, and beauty come from Christ alone.These revelations did not come over night, but God used the long months of treatment to teach me patiently. I spent time daily in His Word, reading the pages of Scripture and finding hope when I was hopeless, strength when I was weary, and encouragement when I was suffering. The words of Scripture came alive as I personally experienced that God speaks through His Word. I found Scriptures that spoke directly to my aching heart, and I treasured these words from God as my anthem and battle cry.Philippians 1:19-20 says, “What has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.” These words were just what I needed to hear and believe in the midst of the shame of my eating disorder. God promised me deliverance and courage, and I now see how God fulfilled this promise by delivering me and using my eating disorder to exalt Him and encourage others.
“I will run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” This verse from Psalm 119:32 taught me that my days of running were not over. In fact, they were just beginning as God was teaching me what it means to run towards Him. All the energy that I had previously put into track I channeled into my relationship with Jesus, and I discovered that He is the only thing worth passionately pursuing. Only in Him will we find the satisfaction we seek.
Isaiah 66:9 was another key Scripture for me as I fought an eating disorder. God says, “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born” (NCV). Although my eating disorder caused significant pain, God used it to radically transform my life and relationship with Him. Through my eating disorder, God made me into someone new. He turned the ashes of my eating disorder into true beauty of a heart devoted to Him. Through trials and suffering, I learned what it means to surrender everything to Jesus, to trust Him in my absolute weakest moments, to love His Word and hear His voice of truth in a world a lies, and to find my worth and identity in Him alone.
Now, I am still running in freedom from an eating disorder, and I am continually learning what it means to know Jesus as my everything. I have witnessed the Lord turn ashes into beauty by transforming the pain of my eating disorder into the joy of knowing Him more. So I press on to running harder in the path of His commands.
Ashli Roussel is a twenty-two year old writer, blogger, nurse, and adventure-seeker from Little Rock, Arkansas. She battled an eating disorder in high school and wrote about it in her recently published book, Boundless: Discovering God in Your Eating Disorder, a thirty-day devotional guide for young women with eating disorders. It can be purchased on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble online. Check out her blog at www.ashliroussel.com.